Massachusetts General Hospital and Wentworth-Douglass Hospital are pulling the plug on a proposed merger with Exeter Hospital.
More than two years after launching an effort to form a new Seacoast-based nonprofit health care network to serve local patients, hospital officials announced Wednesday that the proposal is off.
“With the new year there’s always doors that open and doors that close. This is a door that closed for us, sadly,” said Mark Whitney, vice president of strategic planning at Exeter Health Resources, the parent company of Exeter Hospital.
Under the plan, which was still undergoing federal regulatory review, a new corporation would have been created to serve as the parent company of both Exeter Health Resources and Wentworth-Douglass. The new parent would have been part of Mass General and managed by leadership from the three hospitals.
Wentworth-Douglass became a subsidiary of Mass General in 2017 while Exeter Health Resources has been working with the Boston hospital’s oncology program for the past decade.
The hospitals hoped that the merger would bring additional local access to comprehensive, high-quality health care services to Seacoast communities.
However, Mass General and Wentworth-Douglass said in a statement that “while the hospitals have worked in good faith during this time, they have been unable to find an agreeable resolution that would work in practice.”
The proposal had been scrutinized by state and federal regulators and faced opposition from the Charitable Trusts Unit at the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office, which called the planned affiliation “unlawful,” arguing that it would decrease competition and increase the cost of health care to patients.
The AG’s decision followed a lengthy review by the office’s Consumer Protection and Antitrust Bureau.
Whitney said Exeter Health Resources disagreed with the decision to discontinue efforts to pursue the new affiliation.
“Their evaluation, from what they told us, was based on their experience with the state’s regulatory process. Based on that evaluation they let us know that they would not be moving forward with the affiliation, which is obviously very disappointing and frustrating for us,” he said.
Exeter Health Resources believed it was close to getting through the federal review and had resolved any concerns, he said. Whitney said Mass General felt that even if the plan made it through the federal regulatory process, the hospital didn’t see a path forward once it underwent state review.
He said Exeter Health Resources will be working with its community-based board of directors and leadership team to assess their situation and move forward.
Debra Vasapolli, director of communications for Exeter Health Resources, said that the decision to end pursuit of the new affiliation won’t impact the partnership and contracts that Exeter currently has with Mass General. Those include the Center for Cancer Care; the Emergency Department’s Stroke Services Program; the Family Center’s Inpatient Pediatrics Program; and the Center for Reproductive Care/Maternal Fetal Medicine program, which is affiliated with Mass General Brigham.
“Exeter Health Resources has one of the most well regarded hospitals, provider delivery systems, and home health and hospice care organizations in the state,” Kevin Callahan, president and CEO, Exeter Health Resources said in a statement. “Although we are disappointed in this outcome, we will continue to respond to the region’s health care needs and will not stop pursuing our mission and vision for improving the future of health care delivery on the New Hampshire Seacoast region.”
Mass General president Dr. Peter L. Slavin also issued a statement.
“Mass General has been and remains committed to serving the health care needs of residents of the Seacoast and southern New Hampshire,” Slavin said. “The people of New Hampshire should have the option of receiving their health care from local, not-for-profit providers who give back to the communities they serve.”
Jeff Hughes, interim president and CEO of Wentworth-Douglass, said the hospital is looking forward to strengthening its relationship with Mass General and exploring opportunities to enhance its health care services.